Wherever Cris Dishman has gone in his four-year Houston Oilers career, the spotlight was certain to follow. Two events tell what kind of spotlight it was:
* In the 1989 season opener, as Minnesota tight end Carl Hilton lie on the Metrodome turf with a concussion, Dishman, a cornerback, stood over him, barking.
* In a 1990 preseason game again in Minnesota, Dishman intercepted a pass and was rolling toward the end zone when he held out the football in a taunting gesture . . . and dropped it, costing the Oilers a touchdown.
It was the kind of spotlight that cast Dishman in the role of villain. He was considered a showboat, a player who could be counted on to make the dumb play, not the big play.
Until this year, anyway.
Now, in what seems a remarkable transformation, Dishman arrives in RFK Stadium for Sunday's 1 p.m. clash with the 8-0 Washington Redskins as the hero of the Oilers' resuscitated defense, a big-play man who has gotten a turnover in each of his last seven games. In this new light, they talk about Dishman as a Pro Bowl player, not the Oilers' reigning bad boy.
What gives, Dish?
"I'm four years older than I was my rookie year," he said yesterday from Houston. "But it's not the 180-degree turnaround that people think it is. I'm the same person. It's just a matter of me making the plays."
It's also a matter of knowing what the coach wants. "Job preservation" is what Dishman, 26, calls it. Under former coach Jerry Glanville, he won a job with the Oilers as a fifth-round pick largely because of his loose-cannon style. Under current coach Jack Pardee, Dishman toned down the act because craziness wasn't condoned.
"You've got to do what it takes to keep your job," he explained.
A second-year starter at left cornerback, Dishman is in no danger of losing his job. He has picked off five passes and recovered two fumbles during his seven-game turnover streak. The five interceptions are tops in the NFL, and his performance during October has earned him AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors.
"I don't put too much emphasis on the streak," Dishman said. "They put me in the right position to make the plays at the right time. The fulfillment of the turnovers is when the offense scores with them."
The Oilers (7-1) have turned his five interceptions into five touchdowns. A few years ago, the Oilers were forced to make up for his needless penalties of aggression.
"I don't think anyone ever questioned his talent, just his judgment," said defensive end William Fuller. "Now he's more in control on the football field. He's not too hot to fly off the handle to make the bad decisions."
Dishman said Pardee has cautioned the Oilers all week about playing in raucous RFK. Dishman already knew about the Posse, though.
"They've got three excellent receivers in Gary Clark, the legendary Art Monk and Ricky Sanders," he said. "They're the best receivers we've faced all year. They're a class act. All three are Pro Bowl-type players."
It is probably to Dishman's advantage that he practices against the Oilers' run-and-shoot offense, as orchestrated by Warren Moon.
"They've got a mini version of the run-and-shoot," Dishman said of the Redskins receivers. "They're producing points for them. We've got four little quick guys. They've got three real fast guys."
So far this turnaround season, Dishman has been up to the task.
"I'm a better player because I don't have extra energy now, the way I did when I played only special teams," he said. "Now I've got to worry about covering Clark and Monk and Sanders. There's no more time for extra activities."